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Holy Cash! Religious Schools Reap Billions From Public Vouchers

Private school vouchers have increased exponentially in popularity, and now billions of taxpayer dollars are being directed to this program.

While vouchers can be used at nearly any private school, a Washington Post investigation reveals that the vast majority of funds are being funneled to religious institutions. Currently 4.7 million private school students are benefiting from vouchers and that number is expected to grow.

Voucher opponents express deep concern about the erosion of the separation between church and state as voucher programs expand dramatically. They worry that the increasing use of taxpayer funds to pay for religious education through these programs represents a significant and troubling shift in public policy.

“It is corrosive to the First Amendment principle of the separation of church and state and it signals a huge intrusion by the government in their thinly veiled attempt to bring private, religious, and home schools under their control. It’s truly ironic that it is being championed by the very people who claim to distrust government the most,” Charles Luke, Co-Director for Pastors for Texas Children, told RA News.

These programs, favored by conservatives, are rapidly expanding in GOP-led states. A total of 28 states plus D.C. now operate some form of voucher system, with eight states having created or expanded programs last year alone.

Voucher programs vary but have become particularly large in states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Florida, and Arizona. In these states, families overwhelmingly choose religious schools, with voucher usage in some schools exceeding 90%.

The Washington Post published an article highlighting this trend, noting that in several states with expanded voucher programs, the majority of enrolled students are choosing religious schools. 

  • Ohio: This year, more than 150,000 Ohio students are using vouchers, with 91% attending religious schools.
  • Wisconsin: About 55,000 vouchers were given this school year with 96% attending religious schools.
  • Indiana: About 98% of vouchers go to religious schools. 
  • Florida: This year, 400,000 students participated, with at least 82% of them attending religious schools. Florida has the largest voucher program with a cost of $3 billion this year alone.
  • Arizona: More than 75,000 students are benefiting from the Empowerment Scholarship Program, which pays for any educational expense. 87% of $229 million that was spent for that program in 2022-2023 went to religious schools. 

The largest conservative state missing is Texas. Where Democrats and Rural Republicans have been able to stop voucher legislation. However it remains the biggest priority for Gov. Greg Abbott who just last week celebrated a big victory after winning primary runoff races that could tip the scales in his voucher fight.

“In God We Trust”

Religious schools, particularly Catholic institutions, have significantly benefited. In Ohio, 75,000 Catholic school students use vouchers, and in Florida, about 60% of Catholic school students tap into educational savings accounts, according to a Washington Post investigation

The expansion of voucher programs reflects a broader trend of increased government-sponsored religion in public schools. New laws in some states allow schools to hire chaplains, let teachers pray aloud with students, and mandate the display of “In God We Trust” signs.

These developments are largely driven by a conservative-majority Supreme Court, which has redefined religion’s role in education. Recent rulings have allowed religious schools to receive public funds, arguing that excluding them constitutes discrimination against religious groups.

The Washington Post’s detailed investigation highlights a fundamental shift in the relationship between government and religion in education, with public funds increasingly underwriting religious education.

Jovanka Palacios
Jovanka Palacios
Jovanka Palacios, a Mexican-American Politics Reporter and Managing Editor at RA's Gun Violence Watch, unveils the Capitol's inner workings. Focused on Public Education and Gun Policies, she passionately advocates for informed dialogue, delivering concise, impactful insights into the intricate political landscape.

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